Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Slice of Life Tuesday

For Father's Day, I got my dad the 25th Anniversary Edition of Paul Simon's Graceland. Included in the package was a CD of the original album with some bonus tracks, as well as a DVD documentary called "Under African Skies" about the controversy surrounding Simon's recording the album in South Africa in the 80's in the height of the Apartheid struggle. As I sat watching the documentary with my dad, what rose above the racial conflict was the idea of the spirituality of music. It was present in the background music of the film, in the footage of recording sessions, as well as in poignant statements made in interviews. One recent interview between Paul Simon (noticeably aged) and Quincy Jones really made an impact on me. The statements reached out of the TV and just grabbed at my heart. Quincy Jones said, "We all have the same 12 notes. Music is the great equalizer. Music is the voice of God."

It made me emotional to hear, and makes me emotional now, recording the words here. Music IS my spirituality. I am not a church-goer, but music is my soul. It brings me home, back to earth. It centers and grounds me. When I look back on periods of my life when I wasn't creating music, it feels like a dark time in my life. Music sheds light, warmth on me and on my life.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with my high school band director at a ceremony that recognized the most influential teachers in graduating seniors' school careers. It was a full circle moment, being recognized by a former student, when there, also being recognized, was MY most influential teacher. I told him how I had recently been taking my flute out to play and regain my stamina, and he told me that this summer, for the first time, our district would be organizing an alumni summer band. It was exactly what I had been missing. Playing with other musicians and creating art in the form of music is like therapy for me. It fills up the empty parts and makes me whole again.

I like the idea of being a lifelong musician, as my band director always wished for his students. One day, I will be looking noticeably aged like Paul Simon, but I know that creating music will keep my heart, soul, and spirit young.

(Even if the documentary doesn't tickle your fancy, the DVD is definitely worth checking out, if only for the music video of "You Can Call Me Al" featuring Chevy Chase. Possibly the best lip synching job ever.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Teachers Write! 6/18 Mini-Lesson Monday

Today's Mini-Lesson from Teachers Write! Summer Camp

My word generator noun: Chair

He had always been first chair cellist in the orchestra. But everything changed the day Stella moved in. Stella, who had cool band stickers all over her case and a stack of mismatched bracelets on her wrist. Stella, who the director put right into Select Strings as first chair cellist, even though Mark had held that position for two years now. Mark, a normally amiable kid, had all kinds of devilish thoughts swirling in his head as to how to oust Stella and get his chair back.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

From Teach Mentor Texts:
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
After doing the meme for a couple of weeks, we realized this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus - anyone reading and reviewing books in children's literature - it can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, you name it in the world of kidlit and it's in! We have loved being a part of this meme and we hope you do too! We encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we're reading. We hope you join us!

Last Week I Dived Into...
Insurgent by Veronica Roth is the sequel to Divergent. It was an enjoyable sequel, and the last page definitely left me hanging. I look forward to the final book in the trilogy (title TBA!).

I also read a YA nonfiction book called Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. This was a fabulous, quick read!  It has short chapters that highlight Temple Grandin's childhood struggles, as well as how her autism helped her become the success she is today. It had a lot of information about autism and how society's perception has changed. The book also highlighted Grandin's huge contributions to animal welfare and the numerous advances that developed in the food industry because of her inventions. A fabulous, fabulous, fabulous read!

This Week I'm Diving Into...

Today I hope to finish 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. I wasn't planning on reading the Temple Grandin book so quickly on our weekend trip, and I was left without a book! I found 13 Little ....  in my Kindle App unread, so I thought, why not? It's a fun read so far.

Tuesday I hope to get my hands on a copy of Smile  by Raina Telgemeir on a recommendation from our school librarian. Wednesday, I hope to read Legend  by Marie Lu.

As for adult books, I'm going to finish reading the Dalai Lama's How to Practice the Way to a Meaningful Life. I'm also going to Anderson's Bookshop on Thursday to see author Gillian Flynn and get my hands on her new book, Gone Girl. 

Look for these Reviews later this week...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teachers Write! Tuesday Quick-Write

Today's Teacher's Write Prompted this response...

A poem to my main character:

All is not lost.
Fear no evil,
Speak all evil
for it will set you free.
Find comfort
in your memories.
Do not underestimate your strength.
Relinquish control of
the tides
and set out to reclaim
the life you're due.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Reads - Divergent by Veronica Roth

Synopsis (from book jacket):
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the YA scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

My Thoughts:
I couldn't get my hands on my own copy of Divergent, because as soon as I showed it to my students, it went from one reader to the next until school was out. Even though I have this all to myself the rest of summer, I am just like the kids...I have to read it NOW because everyone else has read it before me. Summer reading Goal #1: Read Divergent and then immediately after, that shiny new Insurgent that I got on May 1st (Bad Teacher Admission: I didn't take Insurgent to school because I wanted it all for myself! It was just so pretty, and my Divergent copy now, is so not.)

My "well-loved" copy of Divergent

Back to the book. Oh, the book. Now I know why our school librarian raved about this book in August. She even said (gasp!) she might like it more than The Hunger Games. I have to (double gasp) admit that I kind of agree! I didn't write about how I felt while reading The Hunger Games because I was too obsessed about getting my hands on Catching Fire, that I didn't even stop to reflect on it. And now, I find myself in the same situation! I am already 200 pages into Insurgent and I had to physically stop myself from jumping back into it this morning so that I could do this write-up about Divergent! Just like with any obsessive YA book craze, the crush I had on The Hunger Games four years ago feels just like that, a crush from four years ago. And now Divergent is like that new hottie that just moved in and blows the old crush out of the water. I still love The Hunger Games; it's on my students' Battle of the Books list, and we went on a field trip this year to see the film version, but I am ready to jump onto the Divergent train. (Ah! Totally unintended pun!)

It was a super-quick read, and very fast-paced. I know why my students flew through it so quickly. The plot is non-stop action. It's basically like this: revelation, life-altering decision, devastation, life and death situation, kiss, repeat. There's no down time to catch your breath, but I was okay with that. I liked being just as breathless and stressed out as Tris. I do wish I pictured the setting as Chicago more. It wasn't until a landmark was mentioned, that I was like, Oh yeah, future Chicago. That was kind of a bummer, and I don't know if it was my own (lack of) visualization or the fact that besides the trains and the Hancock Building stunts, most of the setting took place inside the Dauntless headquarters.

Anywa, a great summer read! I just wish I had read it last summer so I could have talked about it all year with my students.

In the Classroom:
This book was on my classroom shelf, and though I hadn't read it, my colleagues had, so I put my faith in them. I think it is appropriate for upper middle school. I would suggest it to boys and girls (I only had one boy pick it up this year, but that's because I had some feisty girl readers who Tris'ed their way into getting their hands on it.) This school year I will definitely recommend it to more boys looking for their Hunger Games fix and for my dystopian-loving girls (like me!)

P.S. - Saw Veronica Roth this weekend at the Chicago Tribune Printer's Row Lit Fest. She is so cool! She's very funny and had a chic little bob, which I wish I could pull off. She described herself as a Harry Potter nerd, which made me love her even more. This picture doesn't do her personality justice. Believe me, find a clip of her talking about the book, and your kids will love her too.

She's more smiley than this!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Teachers Write! Thursday 6/7 Quick-Write

Today's Quick-Write from Teachers Write...

Peace. Calm. I couldn't get out of that hallway fast enough. I need to remember to ask mom to pack my lunch tomorrow. Toni elbowed me in the ribs on my way out of the lunch line. Why does she have to be so mean? It takes more energy to be mean than to just ignore me. Good. My computer's free. I'll just pretend like I'm working on another project. Even though I get all my projects done early, at home. I'll just open that PowerPoint and play around with the text boxes for a while.

 I wish I had someone to hang out with at lunch. It sucks being so different from everyone here. People make fun of my hair, my clothes. I can never think of the right thing to say. Maybe I'll ask the librarian for another _____ book. The girls in that book always have the right clothes. Always say the right thing. They always have someone to hang out with.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Slice of Life - Sounds of Summer

Today is the first day of summer break for this teacher. These are the sounds...

The hound dog duet that our neighbor must be unleashing in the park because left in the house, it must be cacophonous.

Car horns beeping as the neighborhood comes home from work and locks its vehicles.

Twittering of birds, sharing the day's highlights.

Thrum of the neighbor's air conditioning unit coming to life.

The whoosh of the car cruising the street.

The banter of the neighbors through the window (they never turn on their A/C) as they clean the dinner plates from the table.

No shouts of children's voices in the park across the street, though today was the last day of school...the light is scarce now. God, I hope they don't park it on the couch all summer.

The scratching of this teacher's burnt shoulders, remnants from a sunny Memorial Day Parade and BBQ. The peeling is almost over.

Someone fumbles with the spigot outside and a high-pitched, kweeeeeeee--- screams up the walls of our house. Someday soon, this will be a welcome sound, as it means relief from the scorching sun.

Teachers Write! 6/5 Tuesday Quick Write

Today's Quick Write from Teachers Write...

We visited the Alhambra in Summer 2008. It is in Granada, the southermost tip of Spain, close to where Spain and Africa meet. The Alhambra is a large castle/estate that had a lot of ___ influences. There was lush grounds, gardens, waterfalls, even a swimming pool. Inside the castle, the detailing was magnificent. It covered every wall, ceiling, even the floors. They were geometric designs, no faces, landscapes, or words.


See - Drastic shade and blinding sunlight, nooks and crannies, the awe-inspiring Spain countryside, brown grasses on the countryside, lush greens inside the castle walls.


Hear - the glurple glurple of water dripping from the waterfalls into the pools below, the thrustle of leaves in the wind, the crinkle of ladies' fans as they try to cool off in the shade.


Smell - the musty smell of water, the aroma of flowers, sweat and body odor of strangers in the intense heat, sunscreen to protect from the sun's instense rays.


Feel - the cool air of the Spanish fan as I whisk the hot air around my neck, the sting of the sun on my shoulders, the relief of the shade whenever it can be found, the dampness from the backpack I carry around, the scratching of the tag on my passport belt hidden under my dress.

We visited the Alhambra in Summer 2008. It is in Granada, the southermost tip of Spain, close to where Spain and Africa meet. The Alhambra is a large castle/estate that had a lot of Moorish influences. There was lush grounds, aromatic gardens, glurpling waterfalls, even a swimming pool. In the gardens, we hid from the sting of the sun on our shoulder, finding relief in the shade wherever it could be found. We couldn't escape the dampness that came from our tourist backpacks or the stratching of the tags on our passport belts. Inside the castle, the detailing was magnificent. It covered every nook and cranny,wall, ceiling, even the floors. They were geometric designs, no faces, landscapes, or words. The only landscape to be seen were tidbits of the awe-inspiring Spanish countryside.